Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shannen And The Dream For A School - Janet Wilson

Shannen And The Dream For A School
Janet Wilson
Second Story Press
Copyright: October 2011

The product description:
It is 2008, and thirteen-year-old Shannen and the other students at J.R. Nakogee Elementary are tired of attending class in portables that smell and don't keep out the cold winter air. They make a YouTube video describing the poor conditions, and their plea for a decent school attracts attention and support from community leaders and children across the country. Inspired, the students decide to turn their grade-eight class trip into a visit to Ottawa, to speak to the Canadian government. Once there, Shannen speaks passionately to the politicians about the need to give Native children the opportunity to succeed. The following summer, Shannen is nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize. Tragically, Shannen was killed in a car crash in 2010, and was not able to see the dream of her school fulfilled. Her family, friends and supporters continue to honor her memory as they work for equality for children in Native communities everywhere.
This was a surprising little book that I picked up on a whim while at work today, having flipped through it quickly the other day. It's a kid's reference book, but just as interesting for the story it tells for adults, and frankly, Shannen And The Dream For A School left me with a lump in my throat and a hope that things will change.

Imagine going to school in various portables in the kinds of temperatures you can find in northern Canada - 40 below, I think I read - and having to go to the community center for classes like p.e. or only having one computer in the school! How about hearing that the old school building is perfectly safe to be in - If my memory's not playing tricks on my, there's one anecdote where they're told to just open a window and turn on a fan (in winter) to get rid of the smell!

Shannen manages to motivate her entire class to try and convince the government that yes, the community does need a new school, only to keep hearing that everything is just fine as it is, but she doesn't give up. This despite at one point a school being promised, only to have the government turn around and say "no" a bit later.

I found the book to be incredibly inspiring and yet at the same time to be extremely sad too. A couple of quick searches of sites like Wikipedia suggest that things haven't changed at all in the community, and yet Shannen's dream lives strong and has kept on going across the country.

Shannen And The Dream For A School is a great read for older kids and adults alike. It's inspiring, just reading about what she's trying to do, and saddening at the same time, because all these roadblocks keep getting put in her path, but she doesn't give up. That's the message to take away from this book. That's why I thought it was such a great read. And yet, it's great for kids too - a window into another part of Canadian life.

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